PUBLISHING \”THE POETRY DIET\”

Or \”Why don\’t we all just wear corsets..?\” I believe that in today\’s literary marketplace there is room for a book of mildly pornographic poetry about chocolate, sex, food, bodies, food, dieting and chocolate. With recipes.
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If you have ever looked in the mirror and winced, struggled not to eat every chocolate in the box, been too intimidated by coat-hanger-shaped shop assistants to go into certain clothes shops… This book is for you.
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Thingley Press (West Country micropublishers extraordinaire) are bringing it out soon. It\’s not on their website yet because it\’s not quite finished, but it will be.
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The really great thing is that recent research has shown that simply reading poetry about chocolate will make you feel as if you just ate some.
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Honest.

BLIMEY, DARLING

Just finished Alistair Darling\’s book – Back from the Brink. The picture it paints of life at the top in Downing Street is oddly… well… small. They\’re like people in a soap opera, all in the same street, getting into feuds with each other, meeting each other at summits and G7s and G20s and getting into fights at parties.
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The feuding he describes is mental: what possessed Gordon Brown to run things the way he did? He was regularly talking to people one to one but practically nothing was discussed openly at Cabinet meetings. He would then come to some conclusion based on the last person who spoke to him and stick to it stubbornly, getting distinctly ugly when crossed. Darling is generous about his capacity for \”heavy lifting\” and persuading finance ministers to act on the massive financial crisis of 2008 – but then he throws it all away in time for the Election.
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Brown comes over as a typical second-in-command who simply cannot lead. It\’s also blatantly obvious that the man conspicuously lacks Tony Blair\’s ability to flannel and charm Lady Luck onto his side. Napoleon would never have given Gordon Brown a job. He\’s unlucky.

YOU\’RE WONDERFUL, DARLING

It doesn\’t often happen that a politician\’s memoirs actually rivet my attention to such an extent that I lose track of time. But this happened today with Alistair Darling\’s book \”Back from the Brink.\” No, really, it did. Honest.
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Even more amazing, he\’s dealing at length and in detail with the massive financial crisis of 2007/2008, including the mammoth banking bail-out for which we are currently paying in blood, sweat and bullshit. I have read a lot of books about this major event which took place largely in the imaginary world of high finance, but which has since spilled out painfully all over the real world.
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Darling\’s explanations are clear without being patronising and mostly generous to the people he worked with. Good heavens, he\’s even nice about Bush! He\’s also fascinating and occasionally waspish when dealing with the problems between him and Prime Minister Gordon Brown who sounds a total nightmare to work for.
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I started reading it casually, expecting to crash to a halt in swamps of tedious egotism – but no. There I sat for four hours, completely hooked. Extraordinary.

BEE INTERESTING

One of the addictive things about beekeeping is how alien bees are. Their social life looks superficially a bit like ours – they live in cities, they co-operate – but are so utterly different in their roots and complexity. Even their genetics are different: drones are haploid which means they only have half the right number of chromosomes; worker bees and queens are diploid, with the full set of chromosomes. It\’s like being able to spy on extraterrestrials.
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Beekeepers, however, are a very friendly bunch and full of tips for anxious beginners like me. The first social meeting of the autumn for the Roseland Beekeeping Group was tonight and I not only got some good advice on what to do about my poor empty hive, how to help the surviving hive and how best to build wasp traps (grrrr), I also had the comfort of hearing that everyone had trouble with wasp nests this year. I wonder why this year in particular? Maybe the cold weather last winter killed something that normally preys on wasps?
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Let\’s find out what it is and cosset and caress it this winter.

TINKER TAILOR BUREAUCRAT

As anyone who has read his books will know, John le Carre is a wonderful writer and past master of psychological suspense amongst dusty files and ugly office furniture. The new film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the best spy movies I\’ve ever seen. I\’m afraid that Gary Oldman blasts Alec Guinness off the screen in his performance as Smiley. I\’ve read the book, watched the TV series and still I was rivetted by all the reptilian plotting and treachery. The Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens hates the movie and lists a long list of crimes against it – but a movie is not a book. There are flaws and failures of imagination and yet it still kept me with it.
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I\’ll have to declare an interest here as my mother worked for the CIA in the 50\’s, 60s and early 70s. Yes, one day I might write about it although hers was very much a desk job and related to the fact that in those pre-internet days, the Iron Curtain was a barrier to words and ideas as well as to people.
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One of the things they capture beautifully in the movie is that sheer heaviness of information. It was something that had to be stored on paper or recorded on huge reels of magnetic tape. Everything weighed a lot. A portable typewriter was a couple of kilos. A filing cabinet was a solid thing that could crush you if all the file drawers came out at once. Everything took a lot of time and effort. My first four books were typed and retyped on a portable Olympia typewriter with much use of Tippex. Then a big wad of paper had to be packaged up and sent to an agent. If you wanted to steal information, you had to physically pick it up and walk out with it.
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Nowadays information is a light, ethereal creature that scampers all over the globe in microseconds. Then it clumped about in books and notebooks and all the modelling and processing happened in fallible easily tired human brains.
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How on earth did we do it?

BASTARD WASPS

God, I hate wasps. One of my hives was being raided by them on Sunday and had just a few sad bees left – the silly sausages only went and swarmed in August so they just didn\’t have the numbers to fight off the wasps. Also they probably didn\’t get a new queen. May I say that most of the beekeeping books say bees don\’t swarm in August, but it\’s obvious the girls weren\’t reading them.
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This is a constant cause for complaint among beekeepers in the CBKA. There are all these great books about bees around, but the bees just won\’t do their homework and find out what they\’re supposed to do.
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I was very worried about my other hive too, but it turned out I was panicking unnecessarily. Today I went to look again with my incredibly patient bee mentor Mike. It turns out, they had lots of brood, plenty of stores and were vigorously guarding the hive – yay! Kill those evil bastards! Go bees, go!

VIVA ESPANA

OK, I\’m a bit depressed. I\’ve been on holiday in Spain, hence the long gap with no posts. No, I didn\’t take my laptop – I was too worried about losing it, dropping it or causing it to have a nervous breakdown by asking it to talk to wierdo foreign servers.
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There are many things I love about Spain, especially the part of Andalucia where we used to live in a village called Jimena de la Frontera. It\’s on the edge of the Alcornocales, the national cork oak forest, which is a vast managed ecology that is staggeringly beautiful as well as fertile (to help support it, only ever buy wine with a proper cork, not screwtop or plastic).
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The village is ancient, probably founded by the Phoenicians, with a hilltop fortress originally built by the Romans and then rebuilt by Arabs and Christians as they fought it out over the south of Spain. It\’s just had a lot of jazzy new roads built near it which were a bit of a shock, and some splendid roundabouts and fountains at the entrance to the pueblo which was frankly quite scruffy when we were living there in the mid-Naughties.
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Other than that, not a lot has changed. And this is because not a lot needs to, really. I think that\’s there is a Spanish attitude to life which is civilized and people-centred and not particularly materialist which is as sustainable as the cork oak forests. It\’s a real pleasure to come back to it, despite the noisy motos and the duff haircuts.
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And of course I\’m missing the amazingly ferocious Spanish sun which comes up with a Homeric rosy dawn and then leaps over the horizon like a blast of trumpets and switches on the day.

Debushing my eyebrows

I am lucky enough to have inherited luxuriant hair from my grandmother (who also gave me the tits and a lot of unwanted famine-proofing around my tum). No, it doesn\’t bother me when people say I have a mad mop. They\’re just jealous.
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I\’m not quite sure why this means I also have bushy eyebrows, but I do. Unfortunately, tweezing makes my eyes run with tears until I turn into a snot-fountain, even though I\’m quite brave and have given birth to three children with only Entanox for pain-relief. Waxing makes my eyelids sore and swollen.
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Then yesterday, I was mooching about the Swan Walk shopping centre in Horsham where my wonderful aunt lives (so convenient for Gatwick) and found a small business there called \”Divine Brow Bar\” doing eyebrow threading.
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Wow. Quick, unmessy, incredibly skillful, not that painful and now I have tamed, smart, civilized eyebrows. Plus I also got a lovely facial massage.

CHRISTMAS REVOLUTION – THE DEBATE

This has been very interesting. At a rough estimate about two thirds of people who responded to my two posts on this subject on my local network, sent brief messages of heartfelt support.

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About a third of respondents said they disagreed and made points about how Network Cornwall is really a business-to-business network and businesses \’have\’ to get started early.

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A few of them got themselves into a terrible tizzy at the whole notion of someone daring to have a different opinion from them. One charming lady with a \”fireworks and tinsel\” event to publicise, threatened to put a pine cone up my ass (she\’s welcome to try…  Oh and by the way – isn\’t modern tinsel highly flammable? Just asking.) Another lady rather patronisingly diagnosed that I had a lot of anger issues and should rise above them and stop disagreeing with her.

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Personally speaking, I enjoy a good debate as a relief from the commercial grind. In a debate, it\’s normal for people to disagree. It\’s OK. Even honeybees do it when they\’re deciding where a swarm will live (see Thomas D Seeley\’s wonderful \”Honeybee Democracy\”). Debate is an antidote to groupthink and conformism. Properly conducted, it can be a good way to make decisions. Why, there are even people mad enough to create an entire political system based on free debate and voting, which they call democracy.

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The Christmas marathoners feel they have to start earlier and earlier, mainly for commercial reasons.

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Christmas sprinters (like me) would prefer Christmas to be a joyous but short end to the year.

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Christmas marathoners are welcome to slog as much as they like, but I will be doing my best to avoid all premature festivity. I invite those who agree with me to do the same. Nobody is boycotting or bullying anybody. It\’s still a free country. We can each freely choose our Christmas policy. That\’s all.
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Blessings (and pine cones in festive gold) to you all!